Why is it a problem to charge your phone on the Overground?

iPhone 6 on train

Despite the advances of mobile technology, we all know how hard it is to make the average smart phone’s battery last a whole day.  And in plenty of cafés and pubs, the owners are more than happy to let paying customers use their wall-sockets to charge their devices.  So why might you not be able to do so on a train?

The offence of abstraction

The England and Wales Theft Act 1968 includes the offence of ‘abstracting of electricity’, which describes ‘a person who dishonestly uses without due authority, or dishonestly causes to be wasted or diverted, any electricity’.

That could include tapping into your neighbour’s power supply or bypassing a meter by rewiring it.

But it can also include using electricity from a source that is marked as not for public use.

For example, according to a spokesperson for Transport for London, their sockets carry stickers warning that they’re for the use of cleaners, and not for passengers.

Extra risks

However, there is also the matter of physical danger to consider – not just to the person who is accessing the electricity, but to people nearby.

‘Energy theft in the UK is estimated to be around £400m each year, and adds at least £20 to the annual bill of each paying customer,’ said Mark Andrews, head of British Gas Revenue Protection.  ‘It is also a very dangerous activity which can cause death or serious injury.’

Protecting our customers

Our Revenue Protection Unit (RPU) works hard to keep the costs and dangers to our customers down when people are stealing notable amounts of electricity.  Two of our officers recently visited an inner city restaurant after noticing a significant drop in its electricity use.  The owner, co-operating fully, allowed the officers to access his meter, but he had forgotten to remove a rather incriminating piece of evidence: a spanner that had been left inside the meter casing.

Unable to offer any kind of excuse, the owner was forced to confess to the DIY tinkering, admitting that the mechanisms inside the meter had been altered to slow down the rate of recorded usage.  After analysing graphs from the RPU Data Intelligence team, the officers calculated that the owner had ‘abstracted’ more than £18,000 of electricity.

Naturally, the restaurant owner was disconnected when he refused to pay the outstanding bill, but then quickly changed his mind an hour later, agreeing to pay the full amount.  The RPU presented all evidence to the police, who are currently making their own investigations.

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